Derrick Feldmann is CEO of Millennial Generation donors. (The 2012 report will be released on Monday.) The agency also hosts the only national virtual summit, MCON, on Millennials annually. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the MKCREATIVE blog., a creative fundraising agency that produces The Millennial Impact Report, an annual research study of
MKC: You have made Millennial donors a specialty. Isn’t it a little early to be worrying about the Millennial donors?
DERRICK: Absolutely not! If we have an expectation that this generation of 20- to-30-year-olds will be future significant supporters of our causes, we have an expectation now to involve them. If you are an educational institution, if you are a nonprofit, if you are planning a capital campaign in the next ten years, and you want more donor support, you had better start working with them now. There is an imperative to work with this generation.
Organizations might not have them as a focus because they may not have the largest capacity to give right now. It’s been a bit tricky for some organizations to figure out parallel tracks of involvement for constituents who don’t necessarily have large capacity but in volumes could give a lot.
MKC: You produce an annual survey. Which came first, the survey or the desire to work with Millennials?
DERRICK: The year after we started, most of our work centered on engaging young people, young alumni, and Millennial involvement as well. And we realized that there was little out there to tell the practitioner of fundraising, “This is who they give to, this is how they give, this is what they’ll react positively to…” So we set out at that point to develop a research project that is now in its third year. The first year was focused on giving aspects, and in the second year we concentrated on giving and volunteerism. Now we’ve expanded that to include volunteerism and engagement with communications like mobile.
MKC: Are you finding notable differences between Millennials and groups traditionally targeted for such giving, like Baby Boomers?
DERRICK: Certainly. There are some commonalities. We know that Millennials respond to in-person requests, just like Boomers do. I think the biggest difference is in the manner that they give and how they give. You shouldn’t be surprised to see a Millennial give small gifts – micro giving of $10 to $15 dollars – to five, six, seven different groups a year, whereas Baby Boomers don’t give in that way. They are looking to make investments into just a few organizations.
We see more of an inspiration moment arise for Millennials as well. By far online giving is their preference, which is different for Boomers. But to clarify that: Boomers do give online; they just give rather more off line. For Millennials, their giving is predominantly online. They respond to direct mail, but not as much.
The first two years we had about 3,000 participants, but this year we had almost 7,000 people all over the country respond! We had three focus groups with Millennials in different parts of the country. We did a practitioners’ study with The Chronicle of Philanthropy. This year’s report will be the most comprehensive we’ve ever done. We wanted to be much more succinct and specific with how to work with this generation, so we could say not just, “Try this,” but, “Try this and here are some examples of how it has worked.”
MKC: You have a big focus in social media and online communication. Is that principally how you work, or are you covering other media as well?
DERRICK: We look at the donor as an individual and say that the donor of today should not be categorized by the manner that they give. They are primarily influenced via different marketing channels, whether that comes online or offline. You’re going to leave this conversation today and see a ton of messages on a billboard, or online, or somewhere else. We cannot deny the power of the online piece that exists for organizations to use. Therefore our work tends to have an online component to almost everything we do because it is the foundation. To be honest, we see it as the storefront for people to get involved with an organization from wherever they are in the world. And that storefront, just like any other business or physical storefront, requires continuous care and upkeep. That’s why we focus so much on it.
MKC: That’s an interesting idea. When you are talking about the ‘storefront,’ are you thinking of, for example, a Facebook page or do you mean a mobile app? What’s the storefront most likely going to look like?
DERRICK: Facebook and mobile applications… all of those are absolutely wonderful tools, but we see the foundational storefront to be the website. We create the apps here if the strategy needs it and we present a mobile focus if we think this is the best way for a particular organization to go. The challenge, though, is that many organizations haven’t made their website an engaging place for them and their followers. Moving on to create, say, a Facebook page will be challenging because they still haven’t created that foundation.
I would say too that creating a Facebook page is imperative, but do people come to it because of the way it’s designed? Not really. It’s the nonprofit’s ability to have a human conversation, which is probably the most challenging thing for organizations now.
MKC: Challenging because they don’t understand the conversation? Because they’re short of manpower?
DERRICK: Really the first one. We see organizations getting into the social-media element and treating it like a PR and communications tool. But it’s really a conversational and marketing/engagement piece that they haven’t been able to wrap their hands around. We can look at the power of any given platform, and that requires the organization to be open to allow that kind of engagement to occur. It requires them to have different kinds of conversations that are not simply blast-media approaches but are conversationally engaged. It really means we have to be a little more human than we tended to be in early media. I can regurgitate the facts of an event my organization wants to host, or I can say, “You should come check out our CEO! He’s going to be doing the Chicken Dance tomorrow.” That will hopefully start a conversational engagement that the first model doesn’t.
DERRICK: Yes, but it goes beyond transparency. It is a form of authenticity. One of the things about social media is that it requires social interaction. So if you are not socially interacting with the social platform, you are not really involved in social media. You’re just posting. You can do the same thing through email blasts about the next event. There is an element of transparency, but by far the social-media platforms are there to help people talk to each other.
MKC: What is it that you’d say your clients don’t understand at first about fundraising or about online fundraising?
DERRICK: The manner with which we present information influences donor behavior. Today’s donors are not going to look at a 1500-word document, even if well written, asking for support. Donors today are visually moved. They are moved by a story told to them that supports their efforts with those of the nonprofit. We have to help our clients understand that today’s donor and funding community has changed, and the story that explains why the organization is unique in the community and its compelling nature needs to be conveyed differently.
It takes a bit of time to help them see that. One of the first things we do is help create a simple single-pager for major donors that goes along with the conversation. It becomes one of the best pieces to reinforce the great story that they’re telling. We can see those donors move from “I am interested…” to “I am very interested…” That’s probably our core piece − a two-page case statement. We’ll visually present the organization, where it’s going. I want to take them to their website to explore what their readers are experiencing. I want to take them to another site that they may be experiencing as well, and to get the client to think about which site he would like to experience. That’s pretty moving too.
MKC: Where do you see the Millennial generation going forward?
DERRICK: The answer has a couple of prongs to it. When Millennials become the next leaders of our organizations, they will bring with them a new model of transparency, openness, and collaboration, which I think is exciting but will also be challenging for traditional modes of organizations.
The other thing is that for the Millennial donor, just like any other generational donor, they’ll begin to hone in on where their philanthropic passion really resides. The greatest thing that technology has allowed us to do is to find all these various organizations to support. They, like anyone else, will use that technology to hone in on the one or two projects they really want to support.
You can follow Achieve’s work on Twitter @derrickfeldmann. You can read the results of the on June 11 and learn more about MCON2012 at ., or Derrick on Twitter
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.
Copyright © MKCREATIVE, LLC 2012. All Rights reserved.